For Many Students, Holidays Bring College Application Deadlines

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For many high school seniors, this vacation week may be spent working on — or perhaps agonizing over — college applications. Deadlines for many universities are in January, while others, such as CUNY, follow a February 1 cutoff.

Jane S. Gabin, an independent college counselor in New York City and a columnist for, has heartening words for those toiling over the centerpiece of the college application: the essay.

"It's actually less complicated than a lot of students think," said Gabin, who also worked as an admissions officer at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They think that they have to have some kind of headline topic or some earth shattering revelation, and actually, the essay could just be a very simple story about the student."

The point of the personal statement, Gabin said, is to give an admissions committee a glimpse of the applicant as an individual human being.

"What I say to the student is, 'If you imagine your whole application as a musical or as an opera, the essay is the only place where you get to sing a solo.'"

Gabin also gives these hints, whether you are putting the finishing touches on an application or just getting started:

  • Don't panic.
  • Try talking out an essay topic with someone other than your closest family members. It can be a good idea to get an outside perspective.
  • Ask only a couple of trusted adults to read over the essay and application as a whole. Getting feedback from too many different editors can be confusing.
  • Avoid cliches. ("‘Out-of-the-box’ was a great phrase five years ago," Gabin said.)
  • You don't have to repeat information that is elsewhere in the application, such as subjects taken or grades.
  • Take supplemental questions seriously, such as "Why are you choosing this college?" Universities are looking for concrete and detailed answers about why prospective students want to attend their school.
  • Proofread.

There are also some topics students might want to avoid, such as writing about how hard it is to write an essay. Angry essays are also not a good idea, Gabin said.

In the end, she said that students should remember that admissions officers are people too. "Basically what they want to see in the application, especially if they read the application holistically, is a total human being."